Opposition parties on Wednesday criticised the Centre’s decision to withdraw the subsidy for the Haj pilgrimage to Mecca. The Narendra Modi government has said that the funds would instead be diverted to providing education for Muslim girls.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) attacked the Centre for abruptly stopping the Haj subsidy, when the Supreme Court had ruled in 2012 that it should be phased out over a 10-year period, The Times of India reported. “The sudden withdrawal of subsidy seems arbitrary and motivated by other considerations,” the CPI(M) Politburo said.

The CPI(M) also favoured a complete withdrawal of state and central government funding for all religious pilgrimages. All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen MP Asaduddin Owaisi said that while he was in favour of ending the Haj subsidy, concessions for pilgrimages of all religions should be withdrawn.

Most political parties in Tamil Nadu opposed the withdrawal of the Haj subsidy. All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami said his government would urge the Centre to reconsider the decision.

The Bharatiya Janata Party government wanted to “create problems and hurdles for minorities,” Tamil Nadu Congress Committee leader Subburaman Thirunavukkarasar said. Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam Working President MK Stalin said the Centre’s decision was “regressive” and an attempt to “pull our nation’s trajectory away from its secular ideals,” The Hindu reported.

Pattali Makkal Katchi founder S Ramadoss called the withdrawal of the subsidy a “regressive move”.

However, Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam President Vaiko defended the decision. He said that since the Centre was granting the subsidy only to Air India for flights to Saudi Arabia, it was not appropriate to say that the subsidy was given to Muslim pilgrims.

Muslim organisations call for competitive bidding

Prominent Muslim organisations, like the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind and the All India Muslim Personal Law Board said there should be competitive bidding among airlines to ferry pilgrims to Jeddah, IANS reported. They said that the Rs 200 crore allotted to the subsidy in 2017 went to Air India only, with no direct benefit for the pilgrims.

“We urge the government to spell out how it plans to permit other airlines to fly Hajis from India given the exorbitant prices Air India charges Indian pilgrims,” Jamaat-e-Islami Hind Secretary General Muhammad Salim Engineer said. He added that the abrupt withdrawal of the subsidy will increase the overall cost of performing the Haj, affecting poor pilgrims.

AIMPLB General Secretary Maulana Wali Rahmani also claimed that Air India overcharged Haj pilgrims, and said the government should opt for open tendering to hire an airline for Haj.